Alabama-Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel and other notes from college football Week 3

MIKE STONE/REUTERS - Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) and assistant coach Jake Spavital celebrate after Manziel threw a 95-yard touchdown pass against Alabama on Saturday. The Crimson Tide won, 49-42.

It was a long afternoon in College Station — it took Alabama and Texas A&M almost four hours to play one college football game — but it also was a fascinating one, not only there but around the country. So what did we learn when all was said and done on the first Saturday of the season that had hints of fall in the air?

●Johnny Manziel, for all his off-field flaws, still is the best player in college football. Oh sure, he threw two interceptions that were critical in top-ranked Alabama’s 49-42 escape of the Aggies, but he kept his team in the game with 562 yards in total offense. He received no statistical credit for all the running around he did keeping plays alive long enough to find a receiver. Texas A&M lost Saturday because its defense couldn’t stop Alabama during the last 50 minutes — not because Manziel was anything short of brilliant.

●If Manziel doesn’t win a second straight Heisman Trophy, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will probably be the winner. McCarron will never be as spectacular as Manziel, but he has a slew of very good receivers, he does not make mistakes and he’s quarterbacking a team that may play in the national championship game for a third straight season. Plus, people — meaning voters — like him.

●Alabama is not unbeatable. The Crimson Tide defense won’t face anyone like Manziel again, but it will face some serious challenges before season’s end — including in two weeks when Mississippi rolls into Tuscaloosa. Of course, if you play in the Southeastern Conference and you get through the first week in December with one loss — or perhaps even two — you get to play in the BCS title game.

On other subjects:

●The most telling quote about the state of college football from the weekend may have come from Mississippi Coach Hugh Freeze. After the Rebels, who last mattered when Eli Manning was their quarterback in 2003, had crushed Texas, Freeze said, “This should be great for recruiting.” Freeze’s first full recruiting class at Ole Miss last winter was so good it raised whispers around the SEC. Those have proved to be just that — whispers — so far.

●Mack Brown is a dead coach walking at Texas. Brown has a Hall of Fame résumé, but he could change defensive coordinators for the next 10 weeks and the Longhorns still aren’t going to stop anybody. Mississippi ran roughshod over the Texas defense Saturday night en route to its 44-23 victory in Austin. Texas is 11-10 in its last 21 home games and 0-7 against ranked teams. There’s talk that Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds is going to retire. You can bet his successor will want his own guy in place sooner rather than later.

Runners-up in the coach-in-trouble sweepstakes: Southern California’s Lane Kiffin, in spite of his team’s 35-7 win over Boston College on Saturday (BC probably would finish 13th in the Pacific-12) and Paul Pasqualoni, who is 10-16 at U-Conn. after his team’s loss to Maryland on Saturday. The Huskies began the season by losing to Towson. They will play Michigan on Saturday. A third straight non-bowl season looms in an era in which it is almost impossible not to make a bowl.

●If Notre Dame is ranked this week, then Akron should be ranked, too. The Zips were a much tougher out for Michigan than the Irish — losing, 28-24, when they didn’t score from inside the 5-yard line in the final seconds — and Notre Dame struggled Saturday against an awful Purdue team. If Notre Dame had the exact same résumé that it has and wasn’t Notre Dame, no one would vote for it in the top 25.

●Speaking of Notre Dame: It is entirely possible that when the Irish play Navy, the Midshipmen will be 7-0. Not only is sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds the real deal, but the defense has improved. Oh sure, Delaware is a Football Championship Subdivision team, but it almost always plays Navy tough when it comes to Annapolis. Not Saturday: The final was 51-7, and Navy could have called the score. The Mids’ schedule from now until they travel to South Bend is extremely favorable. Notre Dame has easily won the last two games between the teams since Navy won three of four starting with it ending the epic 43-game Notre Dame winning streak. The game Nov. 2 could be fascinating.

●One other local note: Maryland is 3-0, though it has yet to beat a team that has a win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team. That won’t change Saturday when the Terrapins play West Virginia in Baltimore. The Mountaineers have two wins over FCS teams and a loss at Oklahoma. Even so, if Maryland does beat West Virginia, it will be 4-0 going to Florida State and will, at the very least, be headed to a bowl game for the first time since Randy Edsall arrived three years ago. One hopes the Terrapins enjoy their games this fall against Wake Forest, Syracuse and Boston College because they won’t be anywhere in sight when they move to the Big Ten a year from now.

●Most startling upset of the week: Fordham 30, Temple 29. The Rams scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass with four seconds to go to earn the school’s first win ever over an FBS team since it started playing football again in 1970. Fordham is 3-0 but is not eligible for the Patriot League title and the league’s automatic NCAA bid because the powers that be in that conference took so long to decide whether to allow football scholarships. That means the Rams must earn an at-large bid to play postseason. Saturday’s win in Philadelphia could go a long way in that direction.

●Scores like 59-10 and 59-14 are not uncommon at this time of year in college football. Usually they involve BCS power teams hosting FCS teams that are sent to play on the road so their school can cash a big check. But those two final scores are from Oregon’s victories at Virginia and at home against Tennessee. Neither the Cavaliers or the Vols are great right now, but U-Va. did beat Brigham Young, and Tennessee is, well, Tennessee. Oregon’s speed is blinding. One wonders whether Pac-12 schools like Stanford (which won against Oregon last year), Washington or UCLA can slow down the Ducks.

●The brand-spanking-new American Athletic Conference is not off to a sterling start. In three weeks the AAC has three losses to FCS teams (Temple to Fordham, South Florida to McNeese State and U-Conn. to Towson) and also has lost games to Duke (Memphis — at home!) and to Florida Atlantic (South Florida — again. Remember a few years ago when USF was ranked No. 2 in the country?). The good news is basketball season starts in less than two months.

For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.

 
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